Once upon a time we had a bullmastiff named Hercules (may he rest in peace/spill out some doggie chow for our fallen homie).
Hercules was an anxious dog.
So frazzle-ridden in fact, we nicknamed him Flinchy because of his tendency to (waitforit) flinch at the slightest noise or merest of changes in his surroundings.
Flinchy Hercules, however, possessed a habit which quickly caught our attention:
Whenever he was stressed or anxious he commenced licking his forearms & didnt stop until the feeling subsided.
As you can guess it quickly became a family joke, but there were more than a few things I learned from his odd & (st)icky ways.
- Self-soothing is entirely personal. What felt good to herc may not be what Id have chosen to soothe my stresses away (been there. tried that. didnt like the aftergoop.) but for all of us it should boil down to simple techniques which serve to immediately calm.
- Self-soothing is always about experiencing the positive (as really, the forearm goop/dried crusting wasnt hurting anything) versus something negative or self punishing (for Herc that took the form of nail biting for us it might be over-eating, drinking, over-exercising etc.).
- Self-soothing stops when the feeling dissipates. It never ceased to amaze me Herc would lick his forearms until he felt better & then lollop along his merrybrindleway. He never licked to irritation. Such should be the same for us & our self-soothing techniques. All things in moderation are fine but even soothingstuffs (hello, one glass of wine. nice to meet you one trashy tv show) can drag us down if done too long.
- Most importantly: Herc knew what soothed him & (to anthropomorphize a wee bit here) felt distress and knew he was “worth” feeling better.
(Any of us who have spent time around babies know that self-soothing is something we focus upon with them, too. I just r-e-a-l-l-y wanted to seize this opportunity to yammer about my dog. You’ll have that.)
When I first saw Herc goop himself what surprised me the most was that I had zero clue what my self-soothing technique would be.
After chatting with friends I found that most of them had nary a clue either.
As a result, we gathered as a group (& swore each other to secrecy) and brainstormed about precisely what would soothe our stresses.
Most of our ‘self-soothing ideas took the form of physical experiences. Ways of harnessing sensations to work FOR US and give us the calm, relaxed, centered feelings we desired.
Self-soothing for us had to do with nurturing and being kind to ourselves & we started this exploration by focusing on/writing about what felt soothing to each of our five senses:
For me self-soothing takes the form of TOUCH.
For a friend the mere SMELL of cookies baking is enough to spark calming memories/relax her even after the shittiest hardest of days.
For another its all about LISTENING to angry music (!) which allows her to release her frazzle & grow calm.
You get the idea…
So now I turn it back to you:
How do you lick your forearms? Do you already have a tried & true method of self-soothing which works even under the greatest of stress?
How did you discover what worked for you?
And, if you’re not yet there, I encourage you to take 5 days (any five!) and explore what calms each of your senses.
Not only did I learn how to self-soothe—–I learned a few other important things about myself as well.